Thursday, 15 November 2012

The killing of the horses

Last night I cried my eyes out.  There was a story on the ABC's 7:30 about the fate of "failed" race horses in Australia.  (The link takes you to the story - be warned it contains graphic footage of horse slaughter.)

Just moments after the end of the Spring Racing Carnival, thoroughbred racehorses who are deemed not suited to life as a racehorse are sold and often end up at the knackery.  This is euphemistically called "wastage".

Animals Australia has detailed information about what goes on in the Australian horse racing industry on their website.  They say about 15,000 thoroughbred foals are bred each year and about the same number of standard bred foals.

As I started to write this post this morning, I took a call from my brother who is a veterinarian specialising in equine care.  He hadn't seen the report so I told him about it.  As I was describing what I had seen, I was again overwhelmed with sadness.  There's something about horses with their liquid chocolate eyes that gets to me.

He himself has rescued some horses from the doggers, but says that not all the horses can easily be rescued as they are not easily managed and retrained.  He's worked in the US where they have a "no slaughter rule" which has led to other problems.

He talked me about a man he knows who owns a horse abattoir.  He buys horses and sorts through the ones that can be retrained.  As last night's report explains some of the horses are not right in the head and nothing can really be done with them.  The consensus seems to be it is better for everyone if these horses are euthanased.  Even with all this "wastage" the horse abattoir can not keep up with demand for the horse meat, largely for the pet food industry.

Then I started to think about the fact that many animal lovers own pets like dogs and cats.  They require meat in their diets and commercial pet foods contain horse meat - probably made from these failed racehorses.  There is a demand for these products too.  There are other options for pet food, but given how difficult it is to convince people not to buy animal products that are factory farmed, to eat themselves, I have little faith about the possibility of quelling demand for manufactured pet foods.  Even without the demand for pet food, I doubt the slaughter of horses would stop.

So many of these kinds of issues have twists and turns which makes it difficult to take an ideologically pure position.  At the very least, I think it's important that we all understand more about the welfare of the animals we use in pursuits like horse racing.  I don't understand why the killing - if it has to happen at all - is so heartless.  Last night's footage showed two horses in a blood soaked killing pen.  The first horse was shot in the head while the other horse looked on.  When the shot horse fell to the ground, smashing its head against the rails of the pen, the other horse backed away in what looked like fear.

I will acknowledge that I am aroused to tears when confronting scenes of animal suffering.  The horse racing scene in Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" is one of my favourite passages in literature.  He brings the race to life in such an exciting and realistic way.  And then the horse that Vronsky is riding falls and has to be put down.  She is shot on the race track.  I cried reading this passage (even as I write this, I have tears in my eyes.)

Maybe I'm just a sook, but I feel that surely we can do better than this.  Surely this is a poor reflection on us as human beings.  It seems like such a waste.

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